Arthur C. Danto: The Future of Aesthetics


The FORART Lecture 2005 was given by Arthur C. Danto, the Johnsonian Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University.

In early 2004, the American Society for Aesthetics published two “call for papers” announcements on its web page, each for a conference on aesthetics as a neglected topic in the treatment of art. They were issued by two disciplines that do not ordinarily share a perspective – art history and philosophy. The organizers of each of the conferences appeared to agree that aesthetics is more central to art than either of their disciplines has lately recognized. Art historians, according to the first call, having lately addressed art primarily from political and social points of view, are beginning to find merit in approaching it aesthetically. And philosophers of art, said to have almost exclusively focused on “how we define a work of art and the role played by artworld institutions in that definition,” now ask if they have not lost sight of “what is valuable about art.” The question that interests me is what the impact will be if aesthetics really is restored to its alleged prior role.

Arthur C. Danto was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1924, and grew up in Detroit. After spending two years in the Army, Danto studied art and history at Wayne University (now Wayne State University) and then at Columbia University. From 1949 to 1950, Danto studied in Paris on a Fulbright scholarship, and in 1951 returned to teach at Columbia, where he is currently Johnsonian Professor of Philosophy.

Since 1984, Danto has been an art critic for The Nation, and in addition to his many books on philo- sophical subjects, he has published several collections of art criticism, including Encounters and Reflections: Art in the Historical Present (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1990), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism; Beyond the Brillo Box: The Visual Arts in Post-Historical Perspective (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1992); Playing With the Edge: The Photographic Achievement of Robert Mapplethorpe (University of California, 1995); and The Madonna of the Future: Essays in a Pluralistic Art World (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2000).

Forart Lecture 2005, press release